Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Some recent smokes

Just a few notes on some smokes:

Vegas Robaina Unicos - bought in Spain, I don't know the box code but certainly a young smoke. I have always wanted to like the Vegas Robaina cigars, who wouldn't, but I have struggled. This was a rich, medium to full smoke with lots of dark coffee, espresso and some dark chocolate, the problem I had was that there was no development from that profile so whilst perfectly decent I was more interested in my book that the cigar which is not how I like it. It may need some more time but I foundit a little crude and simple, say 87-88 out of 100. This is in-line with the other VR's I've tried so with there being so many great other smokes out there maybe I will just Park my interest in them for the moment.

Trinidad Robusto T - Also bought in Spain, a smoke I have had a few times. I am a big fan of the Reyes from Trinidad which is a great 25-30 minute smoke, similar in length to the this cigar but much thinner. I smoke quite a few Robustos but they are not necessarily my favourite size, I like a slightly narrower ring gauge. This was a lovely cigar, some leather and strong tea, very balanced, no coffee aromas and little spice, it is at the opposite end of the flavour scale from something like a Montecristo Edmundo. Very classy and not overly young (not sure of the box code as it was bought as a single). The biggest surprise about this cigar is that Habanos SA, the sales and marketing body who look after Cuban cigars are discontinuing it. They have always had a bit of a problem with Trinidad as it is one of their premium brands but in truth it has never escaped from the shadow of Cohiba so it has come to be seen as a touch over priced. Trinidad as a marque is not being discontinued, or so we are told, so it seems very strange to get rid of the most popular, in Habanos' eyes, size. I think there will pretty much always be a Robusto from Trinidad it is just that it may appear under a different name at a later stage. I certainly hope so on this showing.

Partagas Short - Almost the last from a box I have long been enjoying, this was a little loose in construction but good all the same, a nice relax after the working week with a bottle of larger while trying to sort of the contents of my shed!!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Golf, BBQ, Wine & Poker...

Last friday was a great day, the title of this post kind of gives it away. Golf at Wimbledon Park (right opposite the tennis) was a delight, I've played there a few times with our host and organiser for the day Eric. It is his home course and after a round of variable standard golf, mixed with the odd Carlsberg we were a little weary but very happy to have some Bulmers (apple for most, pear for Burnsie) and Youngs Bitter on the veranda. The course is one of Londons gems, 2 minutes walk from a tube and it feels like you are out of "the big smoke". Having decanted ourselves, do you like what I've done there?, into two cars we headed back to base (Eric's house) for a BBQ, much wine and Poker. Mr Burns settled us all down with some well mixed Pimms before the "serious" business started.
So, first up on the wine front were a couple of bottles of Vouette et Sorbee Cuvee Fidele Extra Brut NV, this is 100% Pinot Noir and not a wine or even producer I have had before, it has a richness but not too much toast, as close to a rich Rose as a champagne that isn't a rose can go if that makes any sense, I really enjoyed it.
The next three were a real treat, wherever you are and whoever you are with top prums are always a good idea, this was a trio of Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkap 1995, 1996 & 1997. The 1995 was a little closed, but nicely so, lovely texture and just the sort of thing that wakes up any tastebuds. The 1996 was the most complete of the trio having a little (in fact tiny) amount of development the delicious texture of the 1995 but more in the way of expressive fruit. The 1997 then tasted certainly the youngest. Almost a sherbet and citrus like spritz, a classic trio for which we had our host to thank. These went down a treat with some ham, great bread and then beef skirt in a bit of chilly that was served wrapped in lettuce leaves with some dipping sauce, an awesome "start" to proceedings.
The next wine course was another triple whammy this time of Red Burgundy mags - Savigny els Beaune 1er Cru Les Marconnets 2002 from S.Bize, Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets 1999 by N.Potel & Mazis Chambertin 2002 from Dominic Laurent. The Savigny was ready, refreshing and pretty. The Volnay was elegant with a vibrancy and moreish quality that I liked very much. The Mazis possibly suffered from "preconception syndrome" as Dominic Laurent has a reputation for masses of oak. This was a richer meaty and slightly more gamey expression but in fairness 2002's are like that. It has a richness that comes from the Grand Cru scenario, compared to the other two red burgs I would say, unsurprisingly, that it would repay some time the most. There were then two more food courses, both ribs and both superb, I am well out of my comfort zone here but the (very thick!!) beef ribs has been in a water bath for 4 days and all I can say is that it works!!
As poker was starting it was time for a couple more mags namely - Grand Puy Lacoste 1990 Sassicaia 1987 - the former was deliciously balanced, perfect now, classic Pauillac, all those classic notes, black fruit, cigar box etc a joy. The Sassicaia on the other hand started nicely I thought, a little green but good green but half way though a glass it showed it was definitely corked. That sounds silly but it didn't show initially but as it opened out it clearly was more that just musty. Our ever ready host had just the thing ready in the form of a magnum of Percarlo 1988. Really enjoyable, I was well beyond making notes, mental or otherwise but remember really enjoying it, further reassurance that 1988 tuscany is great stuff. On the tuscan theme Ornellaia 1987 in magnum was next followed by a bottle of Tignanello 1986. The former I don't think I tried, the later was the most developed wine of the night almost aged-Barolo like in having a bacon like aroma, certainly in one piece but at it's peak. One of my contributions was next Psi 2009 from Peter Sisseck, a wine that showed well albeit a change of pace, class and age from its predecessors. 
One reason I took it was that being Tempranillo it goes well with a cigar. On the cigar front we were very well looked after with boxes of three different Cubans to choose from: Hoyo de Monterrey Short Robustos (May 2007), Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Number 2 (2002) & La Gloria Cubana Tainos (2001). I went with the last of these as I know the other two well, albeit not with that age on them. The LGC Tainos (a size just thinner than a churchill) was superb, integrated, balanced with good spice but not too much, great stuff. Whilst all this drinking was going on we were in the middle of 4 hours of Poker, all Texas Hold'em. There was good banter and having a dealer and table delivered was yet more wise judgement from the host. Mr Buchanan got a lead early in the main game and sat there, quite rightly, making people pay to see his cards...a cracking game it was too. As poker came to an end and everyone moved out to the garden for cigars and cheese there were a couple of Germans doing the rounds - 1991 Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese1985 Erdener Pralat Auslese - I only had the later which I can report I enjoyed but can't comment much further other that to say it had a great retro label that sadly my phone did not want to photograph. Also doing the rounds was a tip top bottle of Grahams 66. Delicious it was too. All I can really say is "what a day"!!
Start that BBQ
The table - First course and some Germans done!
One set (the smaller one) of ribs.
The poker!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Cantina Giacomo Conterno - tasting with Roberto


When visiting Roberto Conterno at Cantina Giacomo Conterno last May I did a series of blogs about a wonderful dinner,  tasting the wines and visiting the vineyards. This time I am just going to write up my notes of the wines as little of the information on the vineyards has changed. Those of you that know this blog or know me will be fully aware that this tasting is the one tasting I look forward to most in the year. It was a 9am tasting with all the wines tasted from barrel in large Zalto Burgundy/Nebbiolo glasses with the exception of Barolo Cascina Francia 2005 & 2007 which were from bottle.

So to get the tasting started it was Barbera time. First up where the 2011's. Roberto commented that 2011 is superb for Barbera as 2009 was, lots of fruit, 2008 and 2010 are more nervous, savoury and restrained. There was an early flowering and then a hot September. Barbera Ceretta 2011 (17) was first as always, crisp with red and purple fruit, lovely acidity but bags of full fruited goodness, very primary as expected. Barbera Cascina Francia 2011 (17.5-18) followed and as with Cerretta was packed with fruit, slightly darker in character but the wine definitely had it's trade mark saline quality, it is more mineral than the Cerretta and more masculine. Barbera Cerretta 2010 (17.5) not as lush as the 2011 Cerretta Barbera, good fruit, a little animal edge to it, a creamy texture and good length. Barbera Cascina Francia 2010 (18) is more classical than the 2009 or 2011 of the same wine, very good and will be even more impressive in another 12 months or so (Roberto’s Barbera’s age superbly), the dark fruit shows on the palate wonderfully well the nose is more muted at present. Next up was the Langhe Nebbiolo Cerretta 2009 (18) which will be released this year having seen 3 years in large neutral barrels (the 2008 had 2 years). The wine could be, as the 2008 could have been, released as Barolo but we are dealing with a perfectionist here and the 2010 looks so wonderful that it would make a great first vintage as Barolo Cerretta. This “Langhe” is very pretty, like a Volnay with the volume turned up, aromatic red fruits but with structure there too, impressive. Barolo Cerretta 2010 (18+) was the last wine not to come from Cascina Francia and as mentioned above will be the first Barolo from this site. Roberto was excited about 2010 when we visited last year but this year he just simply said “I love 2010” he also commented that the “tannin years” generally were 2002, 2006 & 2010. This wine was more deep in colour than the 2009 with a little spice too. There is lots of structure there but also a richly decadent fruit. Creamy dark cherry notes also appear, very fine. This will put this wine on the map. We then had the other 2010 Barolo Cascina Francia (18.5-19) which had a taut focussed nose, my note says “initial hit of fruit on the palate is mighty fine”. There is red, almost strawberry, fruit but also a little peppery spice. This is for the long term, very fine. Barolo Cascina Francia 2009 (17.5-18.5) – precise, very aromatic, just lovely. A tiny bit more simple than some, a little like I remember Cascina Francia 2007 being a  year ago, a very good and possibly earlier drinking vintage. Barolo Cascina Francia 2008 (19) I have been a big fan of other 2008 Piedmonts that I have tasted so had high hopes for this wine and I was not to be disappointed. Darker tarry fruit and a rose-like edge too. More brooding, more masculine. Very classical indeed, from a very late harvest. It reminds me of the serious 2006 but with more freshness, fabulous wine. Barolo Cascina Francia 2007 (17-18) this wine I have had a couple of times recently, it is in the mould of 2009, a little simpler and more forward, there is good structure here though too, possibly a result of the fact that there is no Monfortino in 2007. What would have been the Monfortino Botti (large barrel) was blended in with the rest. There is a little La Tache-like Asian spice. Another wine I know well is Barolo Cascina Francia 2005 (18) which is starting to develop just a little, as you would expect, there is a slightly meaty edge coming in to play, this works well with the still abundant cherry fruit. Very well integrated, I don’t feel this wine will shut down at all, it will drink well from now on. This then meant that the only two wines left to taste were Monfortino 2005 (18.5-19) and Monfortino 2006 (18.5-19.5). This was fascinating having tasted both these two last year. The 2005 has an amazing combination of tar, power and elegance, a little iodine and then fresh red fruit, extraordinary. You think it is a savoury wine but then you get fresh fruit, tremendous wine. The 2006 was a little closed on the nose but all the parts are there. The palate is classical, not hard but certainly very strict, acidity is great, fruit is all on the palate. Very serious and long lived wine. Roberto commented that this Monfortino is most like the 1996 and 1999, he had thought of leaving the 2006 in barrel for 8 years rather than the “”normal” 7 but he may revise that as the balance is almost perfect now. A wonderful tasting for which I make no apologies in being rather glowing, the wines from this estate and this man are as good if not better than any wines anywhere.
In Cascina Francia looking north-west

Thursday, 16 August 2012

A midweek mixture at The Salt Yard

Last evening was a good chance to have a relaxed midweek wine dinner at The Salt Yard in Goodge street, what I will call good European tapas. Very wine friendly with good, not over fussy, service and a nice atmosphere. Sussex (you can seem him in other posts) supplied all but one of the wines, which was the Prum brought by Burdhoud. We were six in total which was a great number for the seven wines we had. We kicked off with a magnum of Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese 2009 from Prum, these mags are seriously splendid looking bottles, not easily chilled down but visually great and a bottle of Riesling is never enough! The wine was just open enough, not reductive (stinky) which Prums can be when young. I really enjoyed the balance and completeness of the wine, it has a way to go but there is no harm in drinking it now.
Up next was a pair of 1er Cru Burgundies  - Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Perrieres 2007, L.Carillion and Meursault 1er Cru Le Porusot 2008, G.Roulot. Whilst both are young and a tiny bit closed it was a great comparison with both showing the characteristics you’d expect from both the vintages and the appellations. The Puligny was taught and focussed, almost under oaked (a good thing!), very refined with a long future but cracking now. The Meursault from one of the villages greatest names was more closed on the nose with a tell-tale weight from both the site and the vintage, there was considerable texture here. The rich, honeyed, smokey Meursault character you would expect is there it is just held in check at the moment. 
Next up was a trio of 2000 Barolo’s. None of them are growers I know well, all three are more modern, using new barriques. I find 2000’s to be a good, 4 star, but not necessarily serious vintage with most of the wines open for business and accessible without the potential to make “old bones”. These three: Barolo Cannubi 2000 from E.Pira, Barolo Cannubi 2000 from Damilano and Barolo Rocche 2000 from Vietti did conform to those thoughts. The Vietti was the one wine that will repay a bit more time the others were in no way declining but are not worth extended cellaring, enjoy then from now on. The Damilano was the most overtly intense with a good density of fruit, the Liquorice and tar you expect of the modern producers was evident but not too much, a good wine. The Pira was harder to assess, I couldn’t quite decide whether it was more elegant or just a little bit of a lightweight, a decent glass but slightly stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Vietti was the most serious, they grow good fruit and you can see this, I do just find it a shame they use the oak but this is purely a personal thing…it was great to get the chance to drink these.
With a little cheese to finish we had Gew├╝rztraminer Cuvee Laurence 1998 from Weinbach. I loved this bottle, ever since tasting the Zind-Humbrecht’s (a few blogs ago) I have been finding a lot to like in Alsace. This showed enough Gewurztraminer fruit, spice and ripeness without being over the top. It was off dry but not to a VT or SGN level. Just a really good wine with balance and elegance, drinking perfectly from now onwards and versatile enough to have at beginning or end of a meal. One note on the venue, it is definitely best to be a group, four to six I would say and get one person to do the ordering…the just relax and enjoy, I’ll be going back…

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Spain, August 2012 - The Cigars

We chose the same holiday spot this year as last, a nice town called L'Escala on the Costa Brava about a 90 minute drive from Barcelona and only 45 minutes from France. It was a cracking break and as with last year one of the highlights for me was being able to try a few smokes I had not had before, this applied to all but the Sancho Panza Non Plus below. Spain is a big market for Cuban Cigars and the tobacconist/cigar shop in the town is well run and has a decent range. So other than starting the holiday with a light cold and sore throat it was full steam ahead. I didn't make many notes so made sure of giving a score out of 20 as a guide to what I thought.
First up was Rafael Gonzales Petit Coronas (16.25, second from the left in the picture below) this is a marque that gets very little focus or promotion but to my mind supplies elegant cigars that are not to be ignored, they are not blockbusters but then as with wine you sometimes want something refreshing and non taxing I really enjoyed this on a stroll into town on one of our first nights. The next cigar followed a lunch up the coast in Cadeques (see picture), a beautiful fishing town that is well worth a visit it was a Ramon Allones Small Club Corona (16). Rather strangely I own a box of these despite never having had one, but then I often sell wine to people who haven't had it so I suppose it is not that strange. I bought the box because a lot of people who I know like Partagas shorts as I do and they have often said these are of similar quality. I would have to agree, a punchy rich but not overly spicy number with a good bit of leather too, very enjoyable. I have been looking forward to trying a Romeo & Juliette Cazadores (18, left of the picture) for sometime. Cazadores means "hunter" in Spanish and this smoke has an uncompromising reputation.
A box of them comes wrapped in foil and they do not have a band on them. I really enjoyed this smoke, it had a rugged richness and developed well with intensity building. After a big BBQ dinner it was superb, not harsh but certainly it lived up to its reputation. I will buy a box and give them a few years. On another note I absolutely love the size, a Lonsdale, it is perfect in the hand and gives enough smoke without being too thin, the fact that it is not box pressed is also a good thing to my mind. Next up was the Ramon Allones Specially Selected (17, second from the right) this is a cigar I know well and this was a perfect, if young example of this smoke, rich but not heavy with the stewed fruit and Christmas cake character that you expect from Ramon Allones. The construction was a little loose so this was not to be smoked too fast. A good smoke nonetheless and it remains one of the leading Robustos and certainly amongst the best value Cubans out there, the box I have will see at least 2-3 years of age before being opened. A Sancho Panza Non Plus (15, top photo second from left) the following evening was a trip down memory lane for me. When I first went to Davidoff in St.James about 15 years ago I asked what I should try in order to get a good feel for the world of Cuban Cigars I was suggested this very stick. It is light to medium in body, balanced but not taxing. Enjoyably simple if you like, a great morning cigar. The Sancho Panza brand is treated (I would say neglected) by Habanos SA in general, a little like Rafael Gonzalez it has had a reduction made to its range. There is though one market in which the brand is big and that is Spain, hence the production/selection of a limited release for Spain in 2010 of the Sancho Panza Quijote (17.25, below). This is a Double Corona size and as a result a good 80-90minutes worth of smoking. It had real balance about it, was medium in weight almost the entire way through. It will age well I feel, there is a character more akin to tea and leather than coffee and spice which is a profile I like. This is a good cigar in a size I don't smoke often, did it make the earth move? No, but it is good and I would smoke another just probably not buy a box, although a box of 10 is tempting. From a large cigar to the other end of the scale - Le Hoyo du Depute (16.5) from Hoyo de Monterrey rounded off the weeks smoking. What a little cracker it was, this could be a new favourite smaller smoke, very Cuban, a little bit of everything and in a lovely thin ring gauge (38x110). It was everything that is nice about a smoke in a very tidy little package. You will notice from the photos that there were even a few smokes I didn't get to have whilst away so these I will have soon and write up then!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Rafael Gonzalez Lonsdale - aged

There are a couple of blogs coming up that relate to Cigars either smoked in or bought from Spain. The first is about this Rafael Gonzalez Lonsdale with box code PUC ENE 02 meaning it is from 2002. I bought it at Gimeno in Barcelona on a trip back in June and smoked it yesterday. I saw that the shop, which is well worth a visit, had two of these particular sticks. The Lonsdale is a size (42x165) that I really like. I find myself increasingly drawn to the elegantly longer yet not thicker sticks. After a cracking roast lamb at the in-laws it was home to have a last afternoon before returning to work after a holiday in Spain (full Cigar blog of that to follow). When I say above that I like this size it does not appear that Habanos SA who run the Cuban Cigar industry agree as this particular size of Rafael Gonzalez was discontinued in 2006.
Appearance and construction: Firm to the touch but a decent smooth wrapper, very light aroma when cold.
Opening: It lit very easily and regularly with a gorgeous soft aroma. It was mellow to begin with hay and straw notes and a tiny dash of milky mocha, there was nothing forced about this smoke, very refined and relaxed, perfect afternoon fare.
Middle Third: Consistent with the opening with a little more savoury character, again hay and straw but above everything else it is balanced and integrated, no harsh edges but not boring. Mellow tobacco and hard to describe but impressive. Lovely white ash.
Final Third: Burn issues sadly, a little tight and the decent mellow profile continued but I let it rest an inch earlier than was ideal...
Overall: A delicious gentle, elegant smoke that was not taxing but complex enough, very well-knit, really enjoyable and very true to the Rafael Gonzalez marque. I would score it 91/100 but feel a perfectly constructed example would have been 93-94. A real shame that these are no longer available as I would buy a box if they were.